Wednesday, October 5, 2016

When Good Dogs Do Bad Things


It's true. What's a writer to do?

A few years ago, Thistle destroyed our son's required reading. I guess you could say Thistle really sank his teeth into The Scarlet Letter and pretty much devoured The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Yep, our dog ate our son's homework.

Thistle, Thistle, Thistle.

To Thistle's credit he has good taste. He thoroughly enjoyed classic literature, after all.


Shall we say he's well-read because of this, or well-fed?

Here's the deal: Thistle loves paper. He loves to walk on it, lie on it--things we're filing, manuscript pages, whatever. Unfortunately, he also loves shredding it. That said, he, until recently, hadn't destroyed any books in years. Magazines, yes, but no books.

Well, there was that one boring-looking business book my husband was reading. Thistle ripped the cover, but nothing else. Apparently, you can sometimes judge a book by its cover.


Moving on! Here's where my story gets sad. Feel free to get a tissue and come back. I'll wait for you.

Comfy? Okay, good.

Looking forward to the release of Cheryl Klein's THE MAGIC WORDS, I pre-ordered it. When I got the call in early September that the book had arrived at the bookstore, I zipped right over to get it. I even took a picture of the book when I got home, in case I wanted to write a post about it. (Little did I know what the subject of said post would be.)

 Note: if this photo were a scratch-n-sniff sticker, it would smell like happy anticipation.

My husband and I went out to dinner the night I bought the book, the night of the crime. As I left the house, I was looking forward to a bit of pre-bedtime reading. The book sat on the kitchen counter, probably a foot from where my son's stack of classics had been.

Insert dramatic music here!

You know what happened next. No tape, no glue, no magic words could put my beautiful new book, THE MAGIC WORDS, back together.

Told you to get a tissue. So. Sad.

Looking back, I can't blame only Thistle. Years ago, I, trying to be helpful, moved my son's books to that counter. I'm also the one who left The Magic Words in the same spot, unprotected, knowing Thistle's history. (I could note that he has also shoplifted cookies from a local pet food store--multiple times--and even taken dog cookies from a woman's purse, all while on-leash! That should be inadmissible, though, because everything he stole was at nose level, we're terrible dog trainers, and--most importantly--he, like me, has a weakness for cookies.)

Fortunately, I was able to order a new copy of the book right away.


See? Looks just like the first one!

Okay, I'm lying. It's the same picture because I'm too lazy to take another one, but trust me: the new book looks just like the old one.

Thistle, a proven book murderer, will never be trusted with books again.


Pepper (above) says, "When my brother eats books, I become Mommy's favorite."

But... Thistle curls up near my chair when I write. He's here now. My sweet Pepper does it, too, but not as often. I guess you could say she's not as hungry for the written word. Right now, she's downstairs watching TV.

Thistle's my wingman


and occasionally my critic.


He's a cookie thief and a book eater, but I forgive him.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A SENSE OF THE INFINITE by Hilary T. Smith

I just read A Sense of the Infinite, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Published May 19, 2015
Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

A Sense of the Infinite is Hilary T. Smith's second YA novel. I was a fan of the author before even picking up the book because she was INTERN. Do you remember INTERN? I've been blogging since 2009, which makes me practically ancient in blog years. "Hey, you kids! Get off my lawn!" For those of you who don't remember, Hilary T. Smith blogged anonymously as INTERN while working as an intern in the publishing industry. Her insightful blog was helpful to writers, fun to read, and it had a ton of voice. When I heard Hilary was going to be doing a signing nearby, I became geeky-excited (hard to imagine, I'm sure). Then I met her and she was incredibly nice and normal, and she asked about my writing and I babbled way too much, and that meeting is why I feel it's okay if I refer to her as "Hilary" instead of "Ms. Smith" or "the author" for this post. So there.

There are so many things I love about this book, including Hilary's gorgeous writing voice. I read it was a "quiet" book before I picked it up, but that doesn't feel quite right to me because so much happens in the story. True, it's not vampires, post-apocalyptic, the story of one teen saving all of humanity, or something involving aliens. And while I love stories that fall into all of those categories--I myself usually include fantasy or magic in my own--I also enjoy realistic fiction, quiet or not. I love A Sense of the Infinite for the story, the "what happens," the secrets, the characters, and how the characters develop.

I detest spoilers, so I'll stick to the flap copy for the summary:

It's senior year of high school, and Annabeth is ready--ready for everything she and her best friend, Noe, have been planning and dreaming. But there are some things Annabeth isn't prepared for, like the constant presence of Noe's new boyfriend. Like how her relationship with her mom is wearing and fraying. And like the way the secret she's been keeping hidden deep inside her for years has started clawing at her insides, making it harder to eat or even breathe.

But most especially, she isn't prepared to lose Noe.

For years, Noe has anchored Annabeth and set their joint path. Now Noe is drifting in another direction, making new plans and dreams that don't involve Annabeth. Without Noe's constant companionship, Annabeth's world begins to crumble. But as a chain of events pulls Annabeth further and further away from Noe, she finds herself closer and closer to discovering who she's really meant to be--with her best friend or without.


I found A Sense of the Infinite unputdownable. Annabeth is a compelling character. She's fully relatable and empathetic, and she's interesting in her life, her strengths, her weaknesses, and her decisions. Hilary's language is beautiful, and I love her use of similes and metaphors--and the lovely words and similes feel natural coming from Annabeth, a senior in high school. Annabeth's voice sounds modern and intelligent, but also authentic and grounded in real teen-speak. It's challenging, writing with a poetic voice that doesn't sound too old, too lofty, or out of character, but Hilary nails it. All of the characters feel complete, imperfect in a wonderful way, and real.

Again, I shy away from writing too many story deets that might spoil a book, so without going into detail I'll tell you there's a subtlety in the writing that allows the reader to infer, and it helps make the book feel true and real. Also, anyone who writes for children or teens knows it can be challenging to have adults in the book while not having them solve the problems for the protagonist, look neglectful, or seem like cardboard cutouts. Hilary expertly handles the adult issue. Annabeth's mother is a great and important character who remains empathetic through the ups and downs in her relationship with her daughter. I think all of the adult characters feel real or at least realistic in how they're being viewed by a teen. The characters can't be pigeonholed because they're three-dimensional, and the decisions they make feel organic. This book is a superb example of so many things we strive for in writing, and one is to make our characters active in their choices, active in their lives.

I've lately been zooming in extra close on what (and how much) to show and tell as I revise my own work-in-progress, so I can't help but pay attention to those things in the books I'm reading and shows I'm watching. We can't help notice that, right? Once you're a writer, you read and take in the story differently, for better or worse. I remember reading some quote by an author (Who? Can't remember!) saying that deciding what to show and tell is one of the biggest parts of crafting a novel, and I think I agree. As I read A Sense of the Infinite, I had to ask myself a few times if I'd have chosen differently in some of the scenes. I think I would have shown different parts of a few big scenes in my first draft (if I could have written this book, which I couldn't have), and I hope I would have eventually had the wisdom to revise it as Hilary did. See, I think she chose just right. That's part of what made me so hungry to keep turning pages. The book is beautifully crafted, and I highly recommend reading it.

Now it's sharing time! Here's my INTERN-autographed book! Personalized! To me!



The title of Hilary's first book is Wild Awake. I totally want to read it!

Published May 28, 2013
Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers


How about you? Have you read A Sense of the Infinite? Did you follow INTERN? Have any authors made you geeky-excited? Have you read anything great lately? Tell me, tell me, tell me!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Refinishing

Jim and I like to pick up old pieces of furniture, 
listening for whispers of what each one was or could be. 
We search beyond the scratches, the tired limbs, the cobwebs.




Strong wood—a solid form—lies underneath a rough surface. 
We sand it, add new legs,


and then wipe away the dust to see what we have.



It gets messy before it gets pretty.

We stain or paint, finish and buff, 
giving each piece new life.

Refinished at last.



It’s like revision, 
once we have all the bones of a story in place, 
once we have strong wood and a solid form. 
We must sand down our works-in-progress and make broken legs sturdy 
before we can add the polish.

I’m revising now. I’m eager to see what I’ll have when this very special piece is refinished.


How about you? Where are you in the process? 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Happy book birthday to SAM AND JUMP by Jennifer K. Mann!

Jennifer Mann has a brand-new picture book, SAM AND JUMP!

Candlewick Press
Pub date: May 10, 2016

SAM AND JUMP is an adorable book that tenderly captures the very big emotions that go along with having (and losing!) a beloved stuffy and making a new friend. Don't you love the cover?

Here's what Kirkus Reviews had to say about SAM AND JUMP:
When a small boy forgets his precious stuffed rabbit at the beach, he fears the worst.

"Best friends" who "do everything together," Sam, a white boy, and his stuffed rabbit, Jump, go to the beach, where they meet a black boy named Thomas. They play together all day. When he gets home, Sam realizes he's left Jump at the beach. His mother promises they will return to the beach in the morning, but Sam can't eat dinner or enjoy his bedtime story and spends the night imagining terrible things happening to Jump. In the morning, Sam can't find Jump anywhere at the beach and "nothing was fun" without him. Then Thomas returns carrying the missing Jump, and all's well. Sweet, endearingly simple illustrations created with pencil, watercolor, and "digital magic" judiciously use white space to focus attention on inseparable Sam and Jump sharing tea, soaping up in the tub, and sitting side-by-side on a tree branch and in an overstuffed chair. Following Jump's abandonment, murky, blue-gray backgrounds emphasize Sam's sadness, isolation, and fear, while Sam's solitary figure on the beach echoes his loneliness and loss, reprieved later in the silent hug of his reunion with Jump.

Kids with their own favorite toys will identify with this gentle, tender tale of Sam and Jump's special bond.


Jen had a launch party at Secret Garden Books in Ballard, Washington, on May 10, the day SAM AND JUMP hit bookshelves. Sand dollar cookies, cupcakes, and beachballs made things extra festive while guests celebrated the big day with Jen.

This is a pic of a few SCBWI-ers at the event: (left to right) Jennifer Longo, Jennifer Mann, Dana Arnim, and me.



Today was another launch party, this one at Eagle Harbor Book Company in Bainbridge Island, Washington.


Another launch party means more fun book talk, treats, and guests!

left to right: Faith Pray, Jennifer Mann, Margaret Nevinski, and me

Something that makes that last photo extra special to me is it holds all of my critique partners and me in one shot! I'm in one critique group with Jen and Margaret Nevinski, and Faith Pray and I have our own two-person critique group. When a critique partner has a book come out, something you witnessed in its first stages of life--early words and, if a picture book, early sketches--it's so huge and exciting! Hurray!

Happy birthday, SAM AND JUMP! Jennifer, congratulations on your new and beautiful book!

Now it's your turn! Are there any new books you're excited about? Tell me, tell me, tell me!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Interview: Author Jennifer Longo

Today I get to share an interview with the very talented YA author Jennifer Longo

(photo credit: Will Christiansen)

Bio from the book jacket: Jennifer Longo was a ballerina from ages eight to eighteen, until she eventually (reluctantly) admitted her talent for writing exceeded her talent for dance. The author of SIX FEET OVER IT, she holds an MFA in Writing for Theater from Humboldt State University, where her obsessive love of Antarctica produced her thesis play about Antarctica's Age of Exploration. Jennifer lives in Seattle with her husband and daughter and writes about writing at jenlongo.com.

* * *

I met Jen at an SCBWI Western Washington conference two or three years ago, and we became friends. She's so energetic, funny, and doggone nice, you can't help but like her! As soon as I read the premise of her novel, UP TO THIS POINTE, I wanted to read the book. I expected to enjoy it, so I pre-ordered it before it was published. Then I read it. Oh my gosh, people, I was blown away!

UP TO THIS POINTE by Jennifer Longo
Random House Books for Young Readers
Pub date: January 19, 2016


UP TO THIS POINTE is seriously squee-worthy. I absolutely love it. Love, love, love. It's one of those special books you can't put down because it's great any way you slice it. Jen has a killer voice, her characters are three-dimensional and lovable, her setting is beautiful and totally unique (Hello? Half the book takes place in Antarctica!), and her story is compelling, full of heart, and literally laugh-out-loud funny. It's sooo good. 


The blurb:
Harper Scott is a dancer. She and her best friend, Kate, have one goal: becoming professional ballerinas. But while Kate is a naturally gifted dancer, Harper has had to fight for every step. And now it's make-it-or-break-it time: if their auditions go wrong, their dreams are over. Harper won't let anything--or anyone--get in her way, not even the boy she and Kate are both drawn to.

Harper may not be a natural, but she is a Scott. She's related to Robert Falcon Scott, the daring explorer who died racing to the South Pole. So when Harper's life takes an unexpected turn, she finagles (read: lies) her way to the icy dark of McMurdo Station . . . in Antarctica.

Extreme, but also somehow fitting--apparently, she has always been in the dark, dancing on ice this whole time. And no one warned her. Not her family, not her best friend, not even the boy who has somehow found a way into her heart.



I was so happy to be able to attend Jen's Eagle Harbor Book Company reading.

Jennifer Longo reading from her novel

and then being harassed by an argyle sweater-wearing fan. ;)



Shall we look at some reviews? Yes, we shall!

"A stunning love letter to ballet and San Francisco, Jennifer Longo's (SIX FEET OVER IT) quirky sophomore novel, UP TO THIS POINTE, is the perfect meld of adorable and heart-wrenching."
-Shelf Awareness starred review

"The book . . . savvy and detailed about the Antarctic and life on the ice, with McMurdo's combination of industrial site and summer camp vividly conveyed . . . Fans of McCaughrean's THE WHITE DARKNESS will definitely want a look; even determinedly frost-free readers, though, will sympathize with Harper's upheaval at failing to become one of the chosen few."
-Bulletin starred review

"Incisively written. Longo makes it easy to commiserate with Harper as she tries to move past disappointment and envision a new path forward."
-Publishers Weekly

"A moving love letter to dance, dreams, and San Francisco, and a look at how embracing personal passion leads to fulfillment (even if it wasn't part of the plan)."
-Kirkus Reviews

* * *

Now the Q&A! Yee-haw! 

DS: After becoming a playwright, how difficult or easy was it to switch to novel writing?

JL: I have always, always written, all my life. But I've always been embarrassed about it. Real writers, of the books and plays I spent my life reading, were the people who should write, not me. I majored in acting in college as it was still storytelling, but came naturally to me and didn't make me feel like a fraud. I love acting and I earned an MA, all while jealously watching the Playwriting majors rehearse their scripts. I acted for them and wanted badly to re-write a lot of them (because I'm kind of a jerk that way). At last, I got the nerve to give a writing sample to my advisor and asked her if I could switch majors. She let me, and I graduated with an MFA in Playwriting.

Once out of school I wrote plays and had a few produced in small theatres and universities, and I interned at San Francisco's Magic Theatre. But I still secretly wondered if I could stretch and expand the plays I'd written into novel form. My daughter turned three and started pre-school, so I had a few spare hours per week, and that's when I got over my self-doubt and re-wrote my first play as my first novel. I drafted it during NaNoWriMo.

There's a reason there aren't a ton of successful playwrights turned novelists, or vice versa--the two forms are so disparate in structure, in their mechanics. A novelist has a huge toolbox to work with, the playwright's tools are more refined. Read a play script, you'll see nothing but dialogue. Directors hate stage directions--the story must happen with spoken words, and sometimes music, and what the actors are doing right in front of the audience, in real time. I stumbled my way through my novel, relying on way too much dialogue, theatrical pacing, lack of plot, foregoing the use of exposition and internal monologue--it was a hot mess of a book. But an agent saw the story in there somehow, and she guided me through about seven hundred revisions. Then when we sold to Random House, my amazing editor further guided what was essentially a really long play into more of a dramatic novel. The one saving grace I had? Voice. A unique voice that was evident from the first page. That got me out of the slush pile, even with the play-pretending-to-be-a-book-ness of it. My second novel was a bit easier to navigate, but even now, as we revise my forthcoming book, my agent said to me last week, "You have to divide the story into chapters! Not acts!" Clearly I still have a lot to learn. Writing novels makes me want to write more plays. Good grief.


DS: The story and characters in UP TO THIS POINTE are so full and rich, this project must have required piles of research. The author's note in the book says you took ballet from ages eight to eighteen, which explains the ballet knowledge, but you also have details about various sciences, Antarctica, and oodles of other things that make the story feel absolutely believable and real. How long did it take you to do your research and write the book?

JL: Well, thank you! UP TO THIS POINTE began, as my first book SIX FEET OVER IT did, as a play. In 1998 I was researching a play about photography and on the Kodak website, there was this huge collection of photographs by Antarctic photographer Frank Hurley. I was instantly obsessed with the Age of Exploration of Antarctica, with the explorers and their attempts to reach the South Pole. I read every book I could get my hands on about all of them. I applied to the NSF to go to The Ice but was turned down twice, which broke my heart! So there were years of Antarctica research for the play, then a friend of mine got all nuts for Antarctica and he wintered over at McMurdo Station twice--I got a wealth of details from him. And now, researching for the writing of the book the past few years, there are so many new ways to connect with people and places--there are a ton of really beautiful documentaries about life on The Ice, and blogs and twitter feeds of current residents, so all of that helped.

Sadly, so much research and really fascinating facts must be abandoned in the final draft as this is, in the end, a work of fiction, and the narrative must move forward. Too many facts and geographical and scientific descriptions can really bog a story down, but all the research is never wasted--it goes toward building the world, so it's incredibly important--even if it's distilled to a few tent pole facts and just the cold, isolated feeling remains. It all matters. In the book I've got an appendix with a few of my favorite research resources, which I hope people look into if their curiosity about ballet and The Ice is piqued.


DS: Both San Francisco and Antarctica, through Harper's eyes, are so alive, fleshed out, and beautiful. Do you love San Francisco as much as Harper does? Do you still hope to visit Antarctica?

JL: I am determined to go to Antarctica one day! In the meantime, I watch documentaries about life on The Ice, and I dream.

San Francisco was my home since I grew up and got the hell out of the town I was raised in--it is a phoenix of a city, it is spectacularly beautiful, and all the best things in my life happened in the twenty years while I lived there; I married my husband, graduated from college, had my first real teaching jobs, met and adopted my daughter, had my first book published--those things are all intrinsically bound to the ocean beaches and neighborhoods of that city, and nothing can ever take its place in my heart. A few reviewers have called UP TO THIS POINTE a love letter to San Francisco, and it absolutely is.


DS: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

JL: I do! It's this: Write. Don't worry about publishing, or getting published, or what other people are doing, or writing what you think is on trend right now, write what you are compelled to write. Don't talk about it a whole bunch, don't feel like you need to spend a bunch of money you don't have on conferences or retreats, just write. Get it done, and see what you think. Revise. Read. Then write some more. That's what I think. The rest is separate and has nothing to do with the actual writing. Just write--that's how you'll get better. That's how you'll find your voice. Write.

* * *

Wow, right?! I love how thoughtful and interesting Jennifer's answers are, and I can't help feeling pumped up over her advice!


Jen, thank you for allowing me to interview you for my blog. It's an honor. xo

Sunday, November 8, 2015

DOGTON ABBEY: Episode I

starring: Pepper and Thistle as themselves


Pepper: I dare say, brother, I would pay my weight in Eukanuba to learn where on Earth summer has gone.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Loren Long and LITTLE TREE

LITTLE TREE
Philomel Books
Pub date: October 27, 2015

Loren Long visited Eagle Harbor Book Company on Halloween for a cozy reading on a blustery day. I loved meeting him!



He read LITTLE TREE, his beautiful new picture book,




and he drew an incredible picture while he was smack in front of us. Seriously, people, the picture was totally something I'd love to frame and hang in my house--and he drew it with his sketch pad upside down in his lap so the kids could see the drawing. I was super impressed!

The children and adults adored him, and his story touched everyone. We're talking teary eyes in the audience. It was a perfect event!

I woke up this morning thinking about how lovely the book is. I bought a book as a gift yesterday, but I'm planning to go back and buy a copy of LITTLE TREE for myself.

What's one of your favorite picture books? Are you as blown away as I am when you see illustrators whip up art right before your eyes?